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A corgi model of the Magical Mystery Tour Bus

If this was any other movie or possibly any other band, I would say that the Magical Mystery Tour movie was terrible. I’ve loved the album for decades but never actually watched it until last night.

Conceived, written and directed by the Beatles this bonkers trip was originally aired on BBC1 Boxing Day 1967. Reception was mixed to say the least. The ‘grown up’ movie (just bonkers, not rude) was not quite what was to be expected in this family friendly TV slot.

The NME wrote, on 20th July 1967 that, “If they aren’t already planning so, the Beatles should start planning their next full-length film immediately. After watching a rough cut of their ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, which BBC viewers can see on Boxing Day. I am convinced they are extremely capable of writing and directing a major movie for release on one of the major cinema circuits.” But they will have seen it in a cinema setting, not a small Black & White TV that most British households would have.

The Plot Remains a Mystery

The plot was quite simple if a little confused. Richard Starkey (Ringo) and his aunt Jessica buy tickets for the magical mystery tour. Boarding the iconic bus, they embark on a series of experiences on and off the bus. These experiences include an army sergeant, a marathon/race and a tug of war. Mostly these are just vignettes and or songs that are barely tied together for the movie.

As you’d expect from a Beatles movie it’s all about the songs. The musical numbers are quirky at best – ‘Fool on the Hill’ shows Paul standing on a hill and walking around the countryside. ‘Flying’ is a series of aerial shots with a colourful filter. ‘Blue Jay Way’ – a song written when George stayed in Laurel Canyon features him playing what looks to be a keyboard drawn in chalk on the ground. ‘I am the Walrus’ features the band dressed as animal characters, which appear on the album cover.

However, the final number, ‘your mother should know’ is a lovely finale with the Fab Four in white suits performing an old fashioned ‘dance’ with dancers in suits and dresses.

The movie clocks in at just under an hour so we don’t get all the songs that appear on the album – no Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane, Baby You’re a Rich Man or All You Need is Love.

What this movie does showcase is just how good the title track is. The Magical Mystery Tour is not a song you hear on many Beatles best of compilations but it’s a celebratory joyful song with a thumping bass guitar that bookends the start and end of the movie.

Filming Locations

Filmed on location at West Malling Air Station in Kent (now the area known as Kings Hill), Newquay beach and locations around the South West of England we see quite a bit of countryside and a lot of the air station. The Fool on the Hill was filmed on hills overlooking Nice (yet another movie set in the South of France) Sadly, there are no real locations to visit these days.

Magical Characters

For me the standout song was most unexpected, and not a Beatles number. ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ sung by the wonderful Viv Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, it seems most incongruous within the film yet it was one that I have played many times since discovering it ‘on tour.’ The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band were most famous for their song ‘I’m an urban spaceman’ whilst Viv Stanshall provided the instrument introductions for Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (“Glockenspiel”) . This song is also the inspiration for the band name ‘Death Cab for Cutie’ which was also a new discovery for me!

The video below is not from the Mystery Tour but looks to be a Monty Python sketch/performance which is equally good.

One of the movie characters is a man named Mr Bloodvessel. Buster Bloodvessel. Whilst a minor character in the movie his name would reappear as the lead singer for 2Tone band Bad Manners. Douglas Trendle, the lead singer adopted the stage name Buster Bloodvessel from the movie character.

Cult or Crap?

55 years after it’s release the Magical Mystery Tour has become somewhat of a cult viewing. I guess that is the reason why I have been intrigued by it (and the music of course) but if it wasn’t for the Beatles or the songs, it would be considered crap – maybe something like a poor Carry on Movie you’d stumble upon whilst watching telly on a wet Saturday afternoon. Would I watch it again? Yes quite possibly.

Jay

I am Jay, the founder of Wine, Travel and Song. UK based, I set this blog up in 2016 to share my passion for food & drink, travel and music - Wine, Travel & Song. In these posts I share some of my passions in the hope that it may inspire you to go there, eat that or listen to this. In return I hope you will comment and share recommendations of where to go, what to eat and what to listen to!